Westward Wander - 8 Day Solo Expedition from Mississippi to the Mountains


A couple of months ago my company announced we were going to have a 3-day meeting in Las Vegas in June. Immediately my mind went to all of the awesome that is between here and Vegas and decided I would load up my company car and wander my way to Vegas over 4 days......

Although I am a huge proponent of exploring local, I never miss an opportunity to get west of Albuquerque. June in Mississippi is a soggy, hot affair so the idea of breaking loose and hitting some desert mountains was highly appealing.

After making a 2 hour stop in Oklahoma City to visit Cruiser Corps and trade some FJ-55 parts, I pressed on so I could be in New Mexico for sunrise on Saturday.

New Mexico and Blake's Lottaburger are synonymous to me and I was ticket #1 in Tucumcari at 6 am. I ordered a Blakes Burrito with Green Chilis and also added 4 more to the ARB Fridge in the back of my 2016 TRD PRO for trail food the next few days.

I have made quite a few trips down I-40 in the past but they were always hurried affairs trying to reach distant rock-crawling destinations, usually overloaded with gooseneck trailers and gear, but this trip I was flying solo and I was able to exit at about 1/2 of the small towns along the way and take in some great Route 66 Americana.



My friend Ron had told me about a great National Monument in New Mexico called El Malpais. I literally had no other plans except to start there and work my way west. I had to be in Vegas at noon on Tuesday.

I checked in at El Malpas which is near Grants New Mexico about 24 hours after leaving Mississippi. I got my caving and backroads permit and struck out to explore the park clockwise. The first stop is the sand bluffs. This allows you to get a real glimpse of the diversity of this national monument. Cliffs overlook volcanic fields and grazing land to the west and south.

Other than a few insane bicyclers on the asphalt, I was completely alone once I left I-40.

This NM is known for its Lava Tube caves and there are quite a few scattered about the huge park. My first stop was in the SE corner and I parked and walked the 1/2 mile into the caves and poked around some. They were pretty small and mostly looked like any other old lava flows so I moved on pretty quickly

At the south tip of the park you turn back north and travel alone the western side of the park on the Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway.

This area was a complete arid wasteland. Cattle were scattered about and I cannot understand how they survive, much less put on weight in this environment.

These small mountains are all extinct volcanoes that exploded a few million years ago. Looking down on them with Google Earth gives you an idea of how they all exploded at one point due to their hollow centers.



The road and the scenery change from dusty roady to nice two tracks through the pine forests as I neared the continental divide at the NW side of the park.

Big Tubes looked like the best of all the lava caves from my literature and it was also the most remote. I drove on a really great road still not passing another vehicle in the last 4 hours. When I got to Big Tubes there was a Ranger truck there and two USFS Fire trucks. The trail to the tubes were blocked off with crime scene tape and there was no one around.

What a bummer. I waited around about 20 minutes and no one showed up so I hit the trails for another tube on the north side.

These tubes/caves are really cool. Literally. By 3:00 it was about 95* as I parked, but the caves were 30-40* cooler.



After I knocked out the only thing on my agenda, I turned west and officially crossed the Continental Divide

El Morro National Monument is just west. I had no idea what was there but it was close and on my way to Arizona so I stopped in to check it out....

.....and I am very glad I did. This cliff harbors a natural pool that has drawn travelers and native people here for thousands of years. There are many places that I have visited that preserve Indian hyroglyphics but this one not only does that but also European travelers dating back to the 16th century Spanish.

This place is really cool and worth the stop. It took me about an hour to explore the lower trail, I skipped the top section but would have loved to have gone. Next time.

Check out the script on these carvings

There were hundreds......



Looks like a blast! How'd you manage to get that as a company car? ��
Haha....my company lets me drive anything I want as long as the (base) MSRP is under $45,000

I used to try to work the mileage angle and drive cars that got good MPG but then I realized I was being dumb and bought something I wanted........


After I left El Morro I looked at the map and figured I needed to climb into some serious altitude to sleep soundly Saturday night. A major heat wave was rolling into the Southwest and I needed to get up on a mountain.

I fueled up with some more Blake's before leaving New Mexico. This time with a burger and green chilis and a milk shake.

Flagstaff. I can make it with an hour to spare to find a campsite up in the mountains.

After I worked my way up as high as I could go, the road really went to crap but the 4Runner handled it nicely.

As soon as I hit the Aspens I knew I was home. I quickly turned off the road and popped the top on the GeoOverland RTT

No campfires in the National Forest already since it has not rained there in weeks so I just sat and watched the stars rise. It was a superb evening that got down to 55 degrees.


The next morning I wandered around about an hour and listened to the wind in the Aspens. It is my favorite sound in nature.


I drove up to Snow Bowl to make a plan. It was nice and cool but a bit smokey from the wildfires north of town.

I really wanted to put my 4Runner through the paces at some point on this trip. I had owned it for 16 months and put an astonishing 60,000 road and light trail miles on it and had yet used the magic CRAWL control tools and I love Oak Creek Canyon so Sedona was my next stop.

I bought the Charles A Wells book for Arizona (I have loved his books in Moab and Colorado) I looked up the hardest trail in Sedona and took off.

Broken Arrow. It is a sea of Pink Jeeps and other groups that take tourists on the trail. I found a break in the action and got about 1/2 of the trail to myself and really was impressed with the TRD Pro. I wheeled it manually for the first 1/2 of the trail

This is the big obstacle on the trail. I engaged the CRAWL control and it magically made its way down with nothing but my steering

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After lunch I swung around the north side of Sedona and ran Greasy Spoon trail. It was a great trail with a pretty difficult long climb toward the end. Views as always were fantastic.

Swinging back into Sedona, the views got even better

The only misstep I took to this point was using Schnebly Hill Road to exit town. This is the direct route between Sedona and I-17 due east of town. The views are outstanding but the road is terrible. I mean awful. One grapefruit sized boulder to the next for 22 miles. Brutal.

If you ever lose your mind and get into the back of one of these Jeeps in Sedona, don't take this road. I passed 6 of these guys in 100 degree heat and the occupants were dying.

The road sucked but I was out of there and headed to the North Rim by 3 pm. I had 5 hours to get to my campsite to catch the sunset.



I flew past Flagstaff and headed up through the Navajo Nation. This drive is unreal. Truly unreal.

The Navajo Bridge was built in the 1930's and was the only crossing over the Colorado River for 600 miles completely opening up this area to travelers. Amazingly beautiful

The second span was added and took over traffic duties in the 1990s. Now you can walk the old span (when it is not 110* and you are racing the sun)



I grabbed a permit for Point Sublime and hit the trail looking for the sunset.

It seemed to take forever to get to the campsite but I made it right as the run was setting. Surreal. I was completely alone. I had not seen a soul since leaving the asphalt.

Day Two. Done.


Sunrise alone on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon can go down as a major bucket-list item. If you ever get a chance to witness and feel this, do it......

I got an early start because I had gotten up so early to see the sunrise.

The road out was outstanding. I was in a hurry the night before and had not slowed down and taken it all in. It was 55 degrees.

And then I passed the sign at the fork for Point Sublime about 10 miles into my return trip. Turns out I spaced the sign in my madness to get to the sunset and continued all the way to Swamp Point. Oh well......even more remote.

The view at the overlook near the Point Sublime split though......

I finally separated myself from this awesome and started back toward the asphalt 11 more miles to the east.



I decided I want to see Bryce Canyon National Park up in Utah that afternoon. The GPS gave me a route but my Arizona guidebook had a better idea. Just outside Jenny Lake there is the Old Western Road through Orderville Canyon that goes straight north and was off-road so I took it.

Short clip of what the road looked like


This is after I hit BLM land and was able to take the GoPro Karma up for a flight



This road popped me out on Highway 89 in Utah just east of Kanab Utah. I decided to stop short of Kanab and try to find backroads to Bryce Canyon. I turned up Johnson Canyon Road and it was just what the doctor ordered

The first cool thing I saw was this abandoned ranch that I later found out was a movie prop for the old TV series Gunsmoke.

The views off this road are amazing.

A turn to the northeast had a sign for the Grand Staircase National Monument and a map that showed that it came out east of Bryce so I took off. It was 45 miles of awesome gravel backroads.

This slot canyon was amazing. Being alone I only poked around a bit but I read on line that people hike it a lot and camp down in it.

The road kept getting better as it went north to Cannonville where I got back on the asphalt on Highway 12